Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2015

Sharp print! Thanks, once again, you marvelous Murnau/Borzage-at-Fox box set.

Note also that this adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s play would be remade by Fritz Lang just a few years later. Later yet, it would become RR&OHII’s Carousel, and then another film after that. They’re all a problem! Let’s investigate.

There are a number of terrific compositions and designs here. Many of them are even hyper-stylized, and they’re very impressive. The carnival set, and especially the carnival miniature as seen from the house, is impressively Murnau-like. It’s still early sound (very, surprisingly!) awkward, but there are a number of impressive camera moves too.

Still, I’m wondering. What has happened to Charles Farrell? His silent film work with both Borzage and Murnau is so very beautiful. In the former case that was at least partly owing to the astonishing contributions of the sublime Janet Gaynor. (I like her, see?) But Farrell stood toe to toe with her, or heart to heart. And here he seems so very uncomfortable!

Objectionable, too. Some of this is in the source, and this quality problematizes every adaptation of this particular property. I’m always wary when I find myself making judgments like that. It’s always possible that I might have missed something important. But questions follow anyway.

This character is so off. Who would want him?  This dull drudge included! (Mind you, Miss Hobart’s affectless presence as the longsuffering Julie is kind of interesting. Bressonian? You do wonder about the quiet ones, don’t you?) This is all in the Molnár (which, if you ask me/truth be told, is sort of a silly property!). It raises several difficulties in our minds. The salvific female winds up as merely masochistic. (Mind you, Borzage’s Bad Girl [1931, q.v.], Man’s Castle [1932] and Moonrise [1948] nearly did the same thing. It all has something to do with contemporary conceptions of masculinity, no doubt. It’s just that this time, Borzage and Farrell don’t manage to make their way back out.)

The supernatural train is very cool. And making an exception out of the undeserving Liliom just isn’t fair! Then he just comes back to slap his daughter’s face! (Doesn’t hurt and feels like a kiss, eh?) I might not even be qualified to discuss this one, because it just leaves me sputtering. I’m not giving up on this director, however. Ever!